Review by les_alanos

"Try transporting oil now, you pipeline jerks!"

Just Cause 2 is a remarkably stupid game. Admirably so, I think. It wears what little heart it has (more on that later) on its sleeve, and sets out from the very beginning to give you the best possible idea of what to expect when you play.

The game puts you in the well-worn snakeskin boots of Rico, a dangerously amoral US super soldier, and tasks you with tracking down his mentor, who has gone rogue. Not that any of that matters, really. The story, as you've already guessed by now, is just an excuse to shoot infinity nameless enemies in the head (or genitals, whatever takes your fancy) and blow up as much military hardware as you can, thus causing 'Chaos' which is a kind of currency that will unlock new missions. Panau is your playground, an enormous archipelago in the South Pacific or wherever, and these islands are ruled over by "Baby" Panay, a cruel communist tyrant despised by the people, and several gung-ho factions you can align yourself with.

You won't care about any of the peripheral characters, but as you'll be spending so much time with Rico, it's probably worth my trying to explain him a little, not that the game gives you any real insights into the workings of his mind. Or I could just say that my 8 year old nephew, Dylan, who owns every single Nerf gun and army tank they stock in Toys 'R' Us, thinks he's the bravest, smartest and coolest secret agent since Sliced Bread, who as you'll recall helped avert the cold war. He's a bit of a slimier looking James Bond (how did they manage that?), replete with an arsenal of cheesy quips, and despite myself, I came to quite like him.

Speaking of cheese, the whole game oozes it like a deep-fried nacho hat. Every other line seems to be a deliberate joke, or so pregnant with B-movie style daftness that you can't help suspecting it was put in there purely for the laughs. It is not cringingly bad, if you assume that it is deliberate. And, hey, sometimes it's written straight. When you do eventually catch up with your mentor Sheldon, he encourages you to keep causing chaos with gay abandon: “Shake the tree 'til all the apples come falling down”. Not exactly Shakespearean, but not a bad little (probably borrowed) metaphor, either.

Anyway, to the meat of the review! The most impressive thing about JC2 is... *drumroll please* its engine! The visuals are a bit rough around the edges, with common-or-garden villagers being rendered in low detail, and vehicles having a “plasticky” look to them, but on the whole it is a great looking game. Rico himself is pleasingly chunky, and the water looks sublime, as do ALL of the weather effects (and there are many). What truly impresses is the sense of scale: steal a fighter jet and take to the skies and you can climb for miles, with pop-out and pop-in kept to a minimum. Oh, sure, there are things you can't see if you're too far away, but then the same is true of real life, eh? Sometimes it's nice just to fly about, watching the skies darken and lightning burst in the clouds whilst the rain lashes down on your Cessna – it is in moments like these where the game almost fools you into believing that it does have some kind of soul beneath the blood and the glitter.

Unfortunately, JC2 is not built on heart and soul, it is built on cold, hard numbers, and when you realise this, the weariness seeps in. The first time you parachute into a base, grab a rocket launcher and dismantle everything you can, it is a truly joyous, liberating experience, particularly as the game encourages you to do this right from the very start. However, the law of diminishing returns applies here. The first time you locate a jet with a minigun and rockets, you'll be overjoyed (until it is blown up) but the next time won't be so special. Annoyingly, vehicles do have a health bar, but you can only see it when you're not actually in them, and it's hard to judge from when the black smoke appears to when it's all going to turn into a huge fireball. When you die, you're dumped back into the nearest friendly base, which might be bloody miles away from your intended target. Handily, you can call up “the sloth demon” (not making that up) a black market dealer who will sell you guns or cars or simply drop you off somewhere, which removes a lot of the legwork. But there's a loading time for him to come in, and a loading time if you choose to extract somewhere, so it's a pain in the arse. I have no doubt that this problem is mitigated hugely on the PC.

Phew, calm down Fury. I played JC2 on the normal difficulty setting, and to be honest, when you get into the swing of things, it isn't that hard, but it IS unfair in the way it ramps up the difficulty (and you can't switch to easy halfway through, I checked). This game also suffers badly from having very very obvious respawning enemies, although mercifully not when you're on a mission, I don't think(?) To unlock missions, as I've said earlier, you have to cause Chaos. You do this by travelling to towns and bases and blowing up red things, because red things are military property. I'm playing the game as I write this and as I approached a small village, a petrol station caught my eye. The pumps are red, I note, and red things need to die. A quick fly by around the whole reveals the presence of precisely no guards at all, so, thinks I, it's safe to start some trouble. Being the devious jerkwad that I am, I decide to stage my own mini 9/11 and bin my chopper straight into the pumps, ejecting to safety at the last second, because I also don't believe in God and do not wish to become a martyr over a petrol station. I do so, and as soon as it hits, no less than 6 army soldiers on foot, and 2 in a jeep with a big gun on the back, warp onto the scene right next to me, and I'm dead within 10 seconds. Click continue, wait for game to load, respawn at base again, lather, rinse and repeat. It's impossible to win against odds like those, especially when there is no way to plan for them, and fighting back only ever increases the odds against you. The only option in most cases, a very uncool option at that, is to run.

The absolute linchpin on which the success or failure of the game ultimately hangs, though, is Rico's grappling hook; a versatile tool which you'll primarily use to scale large buildings and mountains, but which can also be used in a multitude of entertaining and intuitive ways. Whoever was programming this feature did a great job, but there are some teething issues with it, which I'll get to later. If you grapple to a vehicle you'll instantly move into a "stunt jump" position, from where you can take pot-shots at enemies or attempt a "hijack" if a vehicle is occupied by an enemy. This is so easy to do that it's possible to leap out of a slowly-crashing heli and immediately latch onto another, turf out the unlucky pilot and continue your onslaught with barely a pause in the action. It's enormously satisfying the first few times you do it, but you'll find yourself getting shot down so often - after all, if there are so many helis around to latch onto, then you'll be under a lot of fire - that it becomes a rinse-and-repeat exercise in tedium. Nevertheless, it IS something I'd like to see in more games, although if it were a bit more challenging to pull off, and less of an easy escape route, then you could maintain that buzz you feel the first time.

In the hands of an amateur player, the hook is most likely to be used to quickly zip to a more conventional mode of transport, but in fact, when combined with one of Rico's (infinite) parachutes, it is one of the fastest and most fun ways of getting about. When reeling in from a standing position, you can deploy a parachute and take to the skies with ease, and once you realise that you can keep firing at the ground to keep your momentum up, you'll likely shun ground vehicles completely. If you ever find yourself standing in the middle of a volatile situation, and you don't use your grapple to get away, then you're not just a bad player, but you're approaching the game in completely the wrong fashion. Rico's default run is pretty slow, and not only is his sprint only a tiny bit faster, but he also packs his guns away so you have no means of defense. In short: grapple everywhere! Oh OH, also you can tether things together with the grapple, which is enormous fun if you have the imagination for it, but is underused in a gameplay sense and you can easily get away with never really using it at all if you don't want to.

One other feature of the grapple I'll mention (and there are probably other things I'm forgetting) is the effect it has when fired at people. It slaps into flesh with a sort of dull "thwap" and Rico will yank your hapless foe into the air, like a clay pigeon ripe for the shooting. For me, this slows down your pace too much to be much use, as you'll only very rarely face off against one or two foes who can be safely juggled in this fashion. Often, during some of the cut-and-paste faction missions, you'll be asked to "take out the sniper!" which is the games pointed way or reminding you that you can in fact pull your enemies off. Heh. It's useful when the game dictates, but not often in an organic sense, is what I'm saying.

Combat, Combat, Combat. I've played the game for 30 hours now, and I think I've just about run out of steam. When you breathe out a huge sigh of boredom when you gun down a jet fighter, it's time to call it a day. What little story there is won't keep me playing, and I'm not an achievement hunter, so I care not a jot for locating every settlement. I'm fed up of being overwhelmed by innumerable mindless drone enemies and being sent back to my base. I'm similarly fatigued of the countless small and large bugs that have burrowed deep into the game code; so deep that patching can't get them out. Audio skipping I can live with, but when every non-soldier NPC decides to become invincible and stand like a bloody scarecrow just gazing into space, it does annoy me.

On paper, Just Cause 2 works. The graphics are nice, the music is good, the story is...functional. But you do the same thing so many times that it's impossible not to become jaded with it all. You end up sinking into a routine of attacking a base, running from enemies, attacking another base etc. etc. Because everything is open from the start, there isn't much sense of progress. Kill a Colonel and you'll see a message pop-up saying “Military Morale has decreased” but there is no visible evidence for that – they'll still come at you as relentlessly as they ever did. You're putting a lot of work in, but for what? If there had been a multiplayer, the possibilities for fun would have been expanded massively, but there is none to speak of, and that is a tremendous shame.

I could go on whining, but I feel like it would be a betrayal when JC2 gave me 30 hours of dumb fun. Like a pretty but vacant girl, JC2 is neat to play with for a while (sorry...) but won't leave you heartbroken when the initial thrill wears off.

PROS: Yay, explosions!
CONS: Yawn, explosions

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/03/11

Game Release: Just Cause 2 (Classics) (EU, 10/27/10)

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